Motherhood: Myth vs Reality

As part of a generation which grew up with T.V. role models such as June Cleaver and Mary Poppins, I will admit that my expectations of motherhood may be somewhat unrealistic. The long perpetuated myth of the ever-patient, loving mother surrounded by her obedient, adoring children seems strangely unfamiliar today. Unfortunately, the innocent little "Beaver" and the well-mannered children who adore their nanny seem to have grown into "Beavis and Butthead." Consequently, my own maternal instincts seem to have become somewhat warped. I have reached the conclusion, however, that the picture-perfect family probably does not exist, and the reality of motherhood quickly distinguishes itself from the myth.

In a perfect world, motherhood would be painless. Mindful of his wife's delicate condition, the loving husband would show great concern for both her emotional and physical well being. He would shower her with flowers, gifts, and attention as recompense for her hormonal imbalance and as compensation for his contribution to her distorted belly. Gratefully, he would take care of everyday household tasks so that she would be free to shop for the layette and prepare for the blessed event. Looking and feeling better than ever, the radiant mother-to-be would bask in the glow of motherhood. When the time came, the father would share the miracle of birth throughout the labor and delivery which would take less than an hour, of course. Afterwards the loving couple would share the joy of rearing the obedient, intelligent child who would never fail to make them proud. Clinging to this idyllic dream, I entered into the nightmare of motherhood.

Eight years and nine months ago, I woke my husband with the joyous news that I was pregnant. Yes! The Early Pregnancy Test was positive, and I was positively ecstatic. He was the love of my life, and we were finally going to have our "love" child. Confident when the ultrasound showed no extraneous appendages, I named my unborn daughter Danielle Nicole. My plans for little Danielle included sewing frilly, feminine dresses, teaching her a multitude of womanly skills, and establishing a special mother-daughter bond; reality gave birth to a little hellion with a mind of her own and a future full of challenges.

My expectations were flung back in my face almost from the start. The pregnancy was miserable, my husband seemed like a stranger, and the baby was delivered by Caesarean section. To make matters worse, the Demerol only released into the I.V. every two hours instead of every time I pushed the button. When my doctor innocently asked if I would like to have the baby brought from the nursery into my room, I stupidly agreed, thinking it was only for a visit rather than the entire next three days. As I prayed for oblivion, that fuzzy haired little bundle of "joy" screamed for attention.

"Where is the wonder and joy of motherhood?" I pondered in a daze of pain and apprehension.

To make matters worse, my loving husband had turned into a stranger. Losing himself in his work, he barely remembered his way home. The responsibility of rearing a child seemed to have struck fear into the heart of an otherwise courageous man. Then maternal obligations almost obliterated whatever appeal my feminine nature had once offered. Unfortunately, by the time my husband regained his senses and accepted the inevitability of fatherhood, I discovered that I had been supplanted. With her chubby little fist, sparkling blue eyes, and toothless grin, my little Danielle had snatched away her daddy's heart.

As soon as the baby came home from the hospital, I knew that her will was more than a match for mine. She was not even three weeks old when, lying on my lap, she kicked me in the stomach and flipped backwards onto the floor. Her daddy was terribly upset, but little Danielle didn't so much as whimper. At ten months she climbed out of her baby bed onto a nearby chest, fell onto the floor vent, and cut her forehead. The blood almost drove her daddy to a nervous breakdown. When she was cleaned up with barely a scratch, I was accused of being unconcerned because I did not overreact.

My husband screamed, "What's wrong with you? Are you blind or something?"

Somehow I did feel as if I had missed something somewhere along the maternal adventure.

By the time Danielle started talking, she had already become a confirmed tom-boy. The golden-haired princess of my dreams had turned into a grubby-faced little changeling. Her favorite play time activity was wrestling on the floor with her daddy or being tossed high into the air. Rather than the traditional "Mama," her first spoken words were "do gin . . . do gin." So much for mother-daughter bonding!

She soon learned to run faster, swim deeper, and play rougher than most of the boys in the neighborhood. Her most feminine characteristic was a fascination for the male gender. When she wanted to gain a boy's attention, she would just catch him, throw him down, and plant sweaty kisses. Although her behavior was certainly less than ladylike, I think my husband was secretly proud of his little protege.

Nevertheless, when her behavior or her language became totally unacceptable, we began to wonder if we needed to call in an exorcist. Instead, we consulted child psychology books only to learn that she was developing quite normally for her age. Yes! It is normal for a four year old to bruise her own flesh leaving a trail of bloody teeth marks. There were times when Danielle looked more like a poster child for preventing child abuse than our long awaited "love" child.

Kindergarten was her first big adventure, and I wanted her to be the prettiest, most popular girl in school. In spite of her earlier indiscretions, she "cleaned up" well. Danielle looked like an angel in the Laura Ashley dresses I had so lovingly made for her. Suddenly, my dreams were rekindled. Maybe her attire would be a positive influence on her behavior. Refusing to wear the lacy, ruffled creations, she extinguished my hopes just as quickly, claiming the dresses were too "itchy" or too "poochy." Instead she demanded her old denim shorts and tee shirt. Surrender was preferable to all-out war; besides we knew that we were outmatched. Consequently, the battle of "what are we going to wear today?" was lost before it even got started.

Soon it became clear from the weekly conduct reports that other more important battles would require our constant attention. We chose to fight the "needs to pay attention" battle and the "needs to stop talking" battle. These battles are never definitely decided since on-going skirmishes flare up from time to time.

"Where is our perfectly behaved little scholar, the child who was supposed to make us so proud?" I accuse my dumbfounded husband.

I find myself looking forward to the year 2010. I wonder if the war will be over then.

No, motherhood is not what I expected it to be; few things ever are. Danielle is headstrong, determined, and independent. She would rather do something incorrectly by herself than learn from me how to do it correctly. She is a free spirit, an independent thinker, often difficult, sometimes cruel. But as I tuck her into bed at night or quietly watch her sleeping, I realize that she is more like me than she is anyone else.

In these moments Mama's curse reverberates sharply through my brain, "One day I hope you have a child just like yourself."

Looking down at her during such quiet reprieves, I cannot help but smile; she has my hair, my eyes, my crooked little fingers, my determination, my heart. Then the bond strengthens. My dreams seem real--almost fulfilled--and my little Danielle is more than I ever hoped she would be.

Judy Martin